Been hibernating

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I’ve been busy with work and other commitments, so Trails+Travels has been hibernating. We’ve been on some great adventures in the past year, though, and I’ll be catching up soon.

For now, here’s a gallery of photos of a grizzly bear I watched eating breakfast at Two Dog Flats on the shore of St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park in the summer of 2016:

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Lake loop through the Rattlesnake Wilderness

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After my final long run before a 55K race turned into a trying day, I decided to break my taper with a 29-mile loop through the Rattlesnake Wilderness with a friend.

Clear skies and lakes – and a trail mostly free of downed trees – were just what I needed.

Like the routes to Stuart and Mineral peaks, the Lake Creek loop starts on Trail 515 at the main trailhead at the Rattlesnake National Recreation. About two-thirds of a mile north, we turned northwest on Trail 517.1 along the shadier side of Spring Gulch.

At 2.4 miles, we crossed the creek and continued on Trail 517, passing junctions with the Wallman Trail and the trail back to Curry and Sawmill gulches. We rose steeply at first then more gradually as the trail switchbacked through thinner forest to the wilderness boundary at about 7 miles.

After rounding the top of the East Fork Grant Creek drainage – passing the Twin Lakes overlook and skipping the side trip up Stuart Peak – we reached the junction for Trail 534 at 9.8 miles.

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From there, we turned east and ran down into the Lake Creek drainage – all new trail to me.

In the next 2.4 miles, we passed McKinley Lake, an unnamed pond, a historic cabin and Carter Lake, looking back up to the rocky ridges to the west.

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After the lakes, we refilled our hydration packs at a creek crossing, then left the wilderness as we switchbacked down to a junction with Trail 502 at about 14.8 miles. From there, we continued half a mile over a bridge where Rattlesnake Creek makes a narrow cut through rock, then reconnected with Trail 515.

From the junction with Trail 515, it was a long, hot and dusty 13.6 miles south and west along the creek back to the trailhead – and by the time we were done, I was feeling more confident about my upcoming race.

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Here are more photos from the Lake Creek loop.

A 50-mile run across the wilds of The Bob

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

On the last weekend in July, I joined a group of Missoula friends for the Run Across The Bob, or RATBOB.

The annual run – this was the third year – is loosely organized, covers 50-some miles and crosses the Bob Marshall Wilderness from east to west. The 1 million-acre wilderness area was designated with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

We left Missoula on a Friday afternoon and camped at the Mill Falls Campground on the Rocky Mountain Front west of Choteau, stopping in Augusta for dinner at the Buckhorn Bar and last-minute supplies at the grocery store next door.

Early the next morning, we packed up camp and got our gear together for the day, then drove to the South Fork Teton trailhead a mile up the road to the southwest.

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

About 5 a.m., we started up the trail southwest to Headquarters Pass by headlamp. The first 4 miles were some of the more scenic parts of the day, as we passed a tall, streaming waterfall, took in sunrise on the talus slopes below Rocky Mountain, and were greeted at the 7,755 pass by a group of mountain goats.

At the pass, we said goodbye to our shuttle drivers, who ran back down to the trailhead then spent the day on the road and setting up camp near the end of our route on the west side of the wilderness. At that point, there was to turning back.

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For the next 8 miles, we descended west along Headquarters Creek to the North Fork of the Sun River. After a stop to eat some food, we crossed a pack bridge over the river and headed for the Gates Park Guard Station.

With several trails meeting at the guard station, the scene of our group stopped at a junction consulting multiple maps made for a moment of humor – especially when we found the cabins and backcountry airstrip just beyond the stand of trees in front of us, at about 13 miles.

From the guard station, we continued west up Red Shale Creek on the Continental Divide Trail, splitting into several smaller groups. The area burned in a 2013 wildfire, making for a sunny, warm run, and many of us made our first stop to refill water bottles and bladders here. While I was among those who carried a filter, this was the only place I used it – several people who went on previous years’ runs found the water safe when left untreated, and I joined them out of convenience.

Along the North Wall during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

After entering thick forest for a couple of miles, we reached a meadow at the base of the North Wall near 21 miles and stopped to wait for others to rejoin the group. The North Wall is an extension of The Bob’s famed Chinese Wall, a 22-mile-long escarpment that averages 1,000 feet in height.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

For the next 13 miles, we followed the trail north along the base of the wall, splitting into smaller groups again as we crossed several small passes and burn areas that offered views up and down the cliff line. Eventually, we turned west and climbed steeply up the wall for a mile to Switchback Pass near Kevan Mountain. From the pass we could see back south along the wall and east to where we started.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

The 7,767-foot Switchback Pass got its name from the trail on its west side – in less than 4 miles, we dropped about 3,000 feet to the southwest and rounded more than 40 switchbacks. Back in the forest at the bottom, the trail became level as we waded across Pentagon Creek and reached Pentagon Cabin at nearly 40.5 miles.

From the cabin, we followed the Spotted Bear River northwest, meeting a couple of our shuttle drivers after about 2 miles. After spending the day on the road and setting up camp, they were gracious enough to run a pack full of snacks in and offer support.

Our groups split up even more in the final miles and I ended up on my own for much of it. After wading across Dean Creek and passing the silty, turquoise waters of the Blue Lakes, I reached the other shuttle drivers and first runners gathered at the Silvertip trailhead – about 50 miles and 15 hours after we started.

After a short recovery period, the first of us back piled into an SUV and drove down to the Spotted Bear Campground, where another shuttle driver was tending a buffet of hot food and cooler of beer. After a quick rinse-off in the river as the sun set, we ate, awaited the return of the rest of our group and recounted the day for the drivers before finally falling asleep in our tents.

The next morning, we packed up camp and drove home, crowding a small cafe in Hungry Horse for breakfast.

Here are more photos from the RATBOB.

Back to day hiking in Glacier National Park

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After several years of point-to-point backpacking in Glacier National Park, we returned to day hiking last summer, largely due to the forecast.

While a rainy day isn’t out of the ordinary for our late-July trips to the park, the forecast this year was for much more precipitation. And it delivered – a couple of our hikes were the wettest we’ve been on outside of Olympic National Park, Scotland or Iceland. Fortunately, we’ve learned that good rain gear – jacket, pants, pack cover – is worth the expense.

This year, we also visited parts of the park that we don’t usually get to – the North Fork of the Flathead, the less crowded Poia and Cracker lakes in the busy Many Glacier area, and Firebrand Pass outside East Glacier.

It was the first time I’d been to the North Fork, where we camped at Bowman Lake and made the obligatory stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for baked treats. On the east side of the park, we camped at Rising Sun, which along with the St. Mary campground we’ve always found to be good staging areas for getting out.

Numa Ridge Lookout

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The morning after arriving at the Bowman Lake campground, we hiked to the Numa Ridge Lookout, which provided good views over the North Fork despite gray clouds overhead.

From the boat launch, the we followed the trail northeast along the shore of the lake for a relatively flat three-quarters of a mile, then turned north at the Numa Ridge junction. From there, the trail rose to a small, forested lake – which we didn’t see until we were above it – at about 3.5 miles.

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After the lake, the trail climbed the ridge in earnest, on increasingly shorter switchbacks. As we approached the lookout, the trees grew smaller and the views opened up.

At 5.7 miles, we arrived at the lookout, on a grassy, 9,960-foot high point that offered views of the North Fork Valley below, the Whitefish Range to the west and, eventually, the Livingston Range above the top of Bowman Lake.

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Light rain began as we ate and took photos, so we turned back downhill. At the small, forested lake, the rain began to fall harder and thunder boomed overhead, so we picked up our pace back to camp.

Here are more photos from Bowman Lake and the Numa Ridge Lookout.

Distance: 11.4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trailhead is at the boat launch at Bowman Lake. From Apgar, the lake is about 11.5 miles northwest on the Camas Road, 13 miles northwest on the North Fork Road, about two miles west then north on Polebridge Loop and Glacier Drive, one-quarter mile north on the Inside North Fork Road, then 5.5 miles northeast on Bowman Lake Road.

Poia Lake

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After a second night at Bowman Lake and a day crossing the park and setting up camp at Rising Sun, we decided to hike to Poia Lake from the Many Glacier area.

From the road into Many Glacier, two trails lead to Poia Lake, connecting near Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake. Since we were starting in hard rain, we chose the shorter cutoff trail that begins next to the Many Glacier entrance station.

From the entrance station, we climbed steeply and straight to the northwest for about 1.1 miles, through aspen stands and wildflower meadows, then met the longer trail from the Apikuni Falls area. At the junction, we turned northeast, passing Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake and crossing the ridge itself about three-quarters of a mile farther.

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From the forested ridge, we switchbacked north down the muddy trail to Kennedy Creek, where we crossed paths with a couple of hikers from the East Coast and came upon a relatively fresh set of bear tracks at about 2.75 miles. As they had never encountered a bear before and were planning to hike farther than us, we advised them to be noisy.

At the creek, we turned west and climbed again, through a boulder field and back into the trees above a bend in the creek to the outlet of Poia Lake at about 4.5 miles.

We stopped for a few photos, but didn’t stay long because of the the rain – and there’s something about hiking with your hood up after just seeing bear tracks …

Here are more photos from Poia Lake.

Distance: 9 miles round trip.

Trailhead: We started from the Many Glacier entrance station, about 7.5 miles southwest of Babb on Many Glacier Road. Another trailhead, which also provides access to Apikuni Falls, is about 3 miles farther into the park.

Cracker Lake

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Mostly sunny weather the next day was the best of our trip, so we chose the longer hike to Cracker Lake, one of the most well-known lakes in the park because of its striking turquoise water.

While the fairly popular trail wasn’t as crowded as the High Line or Grinnell Glacier, the dozen or so hikers we encountered were the most we saw on any outing during our trip.

We started west from the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot, passing a turn to Piegan Pass shortly after leaving and dropping to the junction with the Cracker Flat loop at about 1.5 miles. This first section was well-trod by horses, so watching where we walked was necessary, but it also provided views across Lake Sherburne to Altyn Peak and Apikuni Mountain.

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Past the Cracker Flat junction, we switchbacked south up into the forest, with occasional openings in the trees offering glimpses of Swiftcurrent Lake and Mount Wilbur. At the top of the switchbacks, we continued climbing above Canyon Creek, eventually reaching a crossing at about 3.5 miles.

After the crossing to the east side of the creek, we continued up the valley as the forest thinned and the trees grew shorter. At about 5 miles, we came out of the trees and got our first real view of the lake, Siyeh Glacier and Mount Siyeh above it and Allen Mountain on the west bank of the creek.

Out in the open, the wind picked up, so we stopped briefly for Jen to fly a kite, then continued along the bluffs above the east shore of the lake.

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At about 6 miles, a rocky outcrop above the campground offered a place to stop and eat, and views all around. A trail down from the camp allowed us to explore the shore at the top of the lake and see the milky turquoise water – created by suspended silt from Siyeh Glacier – up close.

After backtracking to the trailhead, we took advantage of Many Glacier Hotel’s Swiss Lounge, stopping for beer and an appetizer before driving back to camp.

Here are more photos from Cracker Lake.

Distance: 12.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail starts at the southwest corner of the parking lot at Many Glacier Hotel, about 12 miles southwest of Babb on Many Glacier Road.

Firebrand Pass

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On our way home the next day we drove around the southern border of the park, stopping along U.S. Highway 2 and the train tracks of the Hi-Line west of East Glacier to hike to Firebrand Pass.

Aside from a handful of train whistles and the whipping of the wind at the pass, the hike was the quietest of our trip. We saw nobody along the trail, but later learned one of the two other vehicles at the trailhead belonged to friends.

After crossing the tracks, we passed through a fence marking the park border and hiked steadily uphill to the northwest through grassy fields and aspen stands.

In the forest at about 1.75 miles, we turned north onto the Autumn Creek Trail. Half a mile later – out of the forest and in tall, thick vegetation – we turned northwest again and climbed the Firebrand Pass trail.

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As we rounded the north flank of Calf Robe Mountain, we left the thick vegetation behind, crossed a small snowfield and continued up the trail into a subalpine basin above the Railroad Creek drainage. Ghostly white snags – remnants of the 1910 fires that gave the pass its name – stand where the final switchbacks begin.

After traversing talus and a longer snowfield, we reached the 6,951-foot pass between Calf Robe and Red Crow mountains at about 4.7 miles. Just over the pass, the Ole Creek drainage opened up with views of the Barrier Buttes and beyond.

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A long drive back to Missoula ahead of us, we turned back here rather than continuing on.

Here are more photos from Firebrand Pass.

Distance: About 9.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail to Firebrand Pass begins at a small, unmarked pullout along U.S. Highway 2 about 6.5 miles west of East Glacier or 5.2 miles east of Marias Pass.